Easy Way to Create Toned Pastel Paper Using White Clairfontaine Pastelmat!

Pastelists who are new to Pastelmat may not know that it comes in a variety of colors. A quick on-line search reveals that you can buy it in single large sheets or in pads of different color combinations.

In the past I have purchased several of these pads. However, experience has shown me that there is always at least one color in the pad I tend to not use.

While I LOVE the performance of this paper, it’s too expensive not to use all of the pad.

So….I looked for a way to tone the paper myself.

I had some oversized colored charcoal blocks sitting around, purchased a few years back from here. (They are also sold as individual block colors.)

Derwent XL Charcoal

I also had a pad of white Pastelmat, so I thought I should do an experiment to see if I could successfully tone and fix the colored charcoal to the paper.

I started by rubbing each charcoal block across the paper. Then I rubbed the charcoal into the paper using a piece of pipe foam insulation.

You could try using a chamois or even some paper towel to rub in the charcoal. Pastelmat is relatively smooth compared to most sanded pastel papers, so it shouldn’t tear up your paper towel.

Once the charcoal was rubbed in, I applied 70% Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol with a cheap brush onto the left side of the color swatches.

I applied plain water to the right side of swatches using another cheap brush so as to avoid contamination from the alcohol.

Here are the results:

Top left to right: Sepia (olive green), Sanguine, Ochre
Bottom left to right: Mars Violet (a warm almost black), Black
The set also includes a white block untested for this post.

Conclusions:

First, the alcohol side dried much more quickly than the side fixed with water. Pastelmat paper is really a heavy cardstock, so it tends to absorb water. Since alcohol evaporates more quickly than water, this absorption is not as much of a problem when using the rubbing alcohol.

In fact, this quick drying would be a great benefit if using this toning method in plein air…hardly any wait time!

Once the applied alcohol or water is completely dry, I found that the charcoal is fixed onto the paper very well!

No transfer of charcoal from side fixed with rubbing alcohol.
Very little charcoal transfer from side fixed with water.

I did notice that the side fixed with water has a bit of a “grainy texture” to it, whereas the side fixed with alcohol tended to look more smooth. This could have been a result of the brushes used to spread on the alcohol/water, but I’m not so sure.

Of course, there may be times when one wants more of a textured look. In that case, water might be more likely to produce that result.

In the past, I have used plain vine charcoal as an underpainting value map paintings done in plein air. I fixed the vine charcoal to my paper using spray fixative. While effective, it’s smelly, probably not great for the environment, and is bulky to carry around for a light-weight plein air set-up.

However, adding a block of this charcoal and a small screw-on plastic container of rubbing alcohol or water, plus a cheap wide brush, could be a helpful addition to your plein air supplies.

Well, that’s it for now!

I hope this gives you another tool in your artist’s toolkit!

Till next time….stay creative!

~R

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